No Delhi Belly - just a big one
June 19, 2007

 
The first person I met in Kabul was Anne, of Kenya. She shared a ride with me from the airport (she'd been on the same flight from Dubai, on her way home from leave), and it turned out she worked in the same program as me, supporting the Ministry of rural affairs. A few weeks after I arrived in Afghanistan, she started saying, "Let's go to Delhi... Let's go to Delhi..." And three months later, we *finally* went! (turns out UNDP international staff get one weekend in between R & R - you can go out of the country for that one weekend as long as you work half a day on Thursday and half a day the following Sunday).

Anne was in charge of flights, and I was in charge of accommodations. I booked the Clark International per reviews at traveladvisor.com, and it turned out to be the right choice. Finding a mid-range hotel in Delhi (which I consider anything under $100) is hard to do - you either have to go luxury or a backpacker place. I did not want either. I wanted a clean, safe, comfortable place where I could relax after a long day of shopping. And for once, I wanted a TV in the room - I wanted to be able to vegetate in front of the tube for at least one night. But I didn't want to pay a huge price. We got our room for $73 a night through hotels.com - it had a big, clean, stocked bathroom, air conditioning, ceiling fan, TV with cable, fridge and two comfy beds. And it included breakfast. Clark International is in the Karol Bagh neighborhood - I recommend it.

The primary purpose of this trip for me was SHOPPING!! Luckily, Anne was of a like mind, although she was also there for a medical test (lots of people go to Delhi for medical treatment). I brought just a carry on duffle bag, more than half empty, and I wanted it stuffed by the time I headed back.

We left work in the morning... and then realized after we got to the airport that the Air India flight wasn't until the afternoon. WHOOPS!! So we had lunch back at the UNDP compound. The tiny Kabul airport is getting nicer and nicer (thanks to a company in "Humberg, Germany," according to the banners inside). And there are large signs in the parking lot with a number to call to report shake-down attempts by airport staff (hurrah!!). The flight was late, but it was a blessing that it happened at all: Air India was on STRIKE! The only reason we flew was because there was a 70-person Afghan delegation that had to get to Delhi on THAT flight (they ended the strike later that day).

The weird moment was that there was a final baggage check before the flight at the top of the stairs leading into the plane. The wind was blowing fiercely (oh-so-full of the famous nutrient and bacteria-rich Kabul dust), it was hot, and there we were, with our clothes and headscarves and small bags being whipped about. It didn't feel very secure...

Flight was fine but full, and the frenzy to get off the plane in Asia just makes me crazy - I sit and wait for everyone to leave, to avoid the craziness. Anne and I grooved to the musak versions of "I Love You Just the Way You Are" and "Baby Can I Hold You Tonight" while we waited. In Delhi, we got through baggage claim and customs in a breeze, got some money changed, and headed to look for our transportation. Which wasn't there. Because you are supposed to put your flight information on the "special instructions" section of the hotels.com form. Live and learn. But Delhi airport has this pre-paid taxi thing that is a GREAT idea - you pay your fee right up front. Excellent idea.

Sweet stray dog was waiting for us as we walked out, looking for handouts... and I had nothing... and I was sad...

My first impressions of Delhi: lots and lots of trash, even more than Kabul. Even more filthy, actually. And heat. Oh, the heat...

We found our hotel reasonably easily, and I danced around the hotel room, celebrating the fact that I loved it. I knew I would be happy and comfortable there. And could even dare to use the sink water to brush my teeth (and I was right! No Delhi belly! Wahoo!). Ofcourse, after this whole Afghanistan experience, the Afghan bacteria in my intestines probably mocked the wimpy Indian bacteria as it arrived, laughing at its feeble attempt to make me sick...

I wasn't hungry for supper for some reason (that's usual nowadays, actually). Anne ordered room service. The shock wasn't the price - it's that there was no freshly squeezed juice available in the hotel at all, ever. Hello - INDIA - they grow fruits there... we never could figure that out. Not that I really like fruit, but I felt bad for Anne, who loves it.

We slept oh-so-soundly - clean, full, soft sheets, not worn... soft, plush pillows... Soooo nice.... Then we dressed, went for breakfast at the hotel (eggs and cereal, and I was good to go), and went downstairs to the lobby. The hotel had a driver waiting for us - we hadn't asked for such, but they were right, we needed such. He walked us down to a delivery place so Anne could send some papers DHL back to Kenya. In Kabul, that would have cost her more than $130. In Delhi: $30. Then we paid for the driver for the day, and he took us to what he thought would be the first of many stores, but turned out to be the only one we went to that day: House of Textiles on Doctors Lane. We were there for FIVE HOURS. I'm not kidding. We went crazy. We went through every fabric in the place. We bought clothes. We bought picture prints. I bought a small statue of Saraswati (I think the Sikh that sold it to me was stunned that I knew who she was). Anne bought a carpet and pillow coverings. I danced with the carpet salesman on the carpet she bought (not kidding). We talked to everyone about their families. They ask us a million questions about Afghanistan. We took photos. I believe that, after we walked out the door, all of the salespeople gave each other high fives. While we were there, it began to rain, which dropped the temperature a lot (the newspaper later said that the temperature had "dipped down to 36" - that's 97 Fahrenheit).

Anne is an amazing bargainer. The sales lady told me later that she really likes Americans because we never bargain. We get told the price and shrug and say, "Okay." So I had Anne bargain for me. And bargain she did. Although, I have to say that, if I'm happy with what I bought, then as far as I'm concerned, I didn't overpay. Later, one of the guys was asking what we did in Afghanistan. I told him Anne was in charge of our finance department and he said, "Ah, yes. Africans. Always when they are abroad, they are accountants. They are very smart when it comes to money." And I thought, hey, that's not such a bad stereotype... we have much worse ones in the USA.

Before we left, I got a raging headache. It was a PMS/Jayne didn't eat lunch/Delhi heat headache. It was killer. KILLER. So Anne gave me some prescription med that she had, the shop ordered us some complimentary lunch (which wasn't good and could only eat a few bites, but was enough to raise my sugar and salt levels) and we headed to a place near our hotel for a manicure and pedicure - and a head massage with olive oil, then a shampoo, for me. Altogether, it meant no more headache!

The beauty salon was a local place - we were the only foreigners there. It was more than reasonably priced, and they did a good job... even if my woman wouldn't let me have purple toe nail polish (she looked mortified when I pointed to the color; she pulled out an reddish orange. Okay, she was right... it did look really good). I was mesmerized by the beauticians as they used thread to remove facial hair from customers - the beauticians put one end in their teeth, and would do this rhythmic, rolling movement with their heads to pull out the hair. They looked like they were doing some sort of ritual movement over the women lying back in the chairs...

Then it was time for dinner. I wish I had the name of the restaurant the driver took us to. It was AWESOME!! I had this boneless chicken in tomato and yogurt sauce... it was unbelievable. And some Indian red wine, which wasn't so unbelievable... but drinkable. As we drove back to our hotel, the driver started singing softly along to Madonna ("Every little thing that you say or do..."). And it just sounded so... sweet. In Kabul, I miss sweet.

We got back to the hotel and fell into our beds. We watched "Dick Tracey" (seen it before - it's a decent film), "30 Rock" (HILARIOUS! what a great show!) and a vintage Seinfeld. I admit it: I miss TV... Then it was off to dreamland. Only downside was that we didn't have our clothes - everything was being made or tailored, to be delivered the next day. At least we hoped so...

Every now and then, Anne would start singing "Indiaaaaaaa. Incredible Indiaaaa." And I laughed *every* time. Once, I was walking out of our room, locking the door, and heard this faint voice echoing in the stairwell - it was her, singing that commercial again, and I almost fell down laughing. The first night, I told her she could turn off the light whenever she wanted, and since the switch was by her bed, it meant she was the Queen. And in that little tiny Kenyan voice she said, "I'm the Queeeeen?!" And I had to bury my head in my pillow to keep from laughing *loudly*.

Yes, I did see cows standing around, hanging out on the street and on the sidewalk, but just twice. And once, I saw three large pigs feasting in the middle of town on a pile of garbage. And, always, there were dogs... the sad, sad dogs...

Next morning, Anne went off for a medical exam. I slept late, listened to the rain, ate breakfast (the morning paper had an advice column on breathing techniques to cure various illnesses and the front page of the sports section was on a cricket match - I must be in India), watched some TV, then headed to the lobby. There was a couple there from Spain we had met at breakfast the day before. They were with there young child, probably two years old - I think it was a girl. They had adopted her, and had only had her five days. They were leaving that day for Spain. She was still pretty overwhelmed, didn't smile, but was playing with a few things, and stuck to them like glue and seemed to be comfortable with them. They needed some help with money exchange, and since they didn't speak English, I helped them out. Who says Spanish is only useful in Spain and the Western Hemisphere?!

The rain had stopped and standing water had, at last, drained away. I walked around the Karol Bagh neighborhood a bit. The amount of trash was stunning, and the cacophony of noise made me feel like I was in a movie. But no one bothered me, and the sense of freedom, walking around the street without people gawking at me, and me wearing a sleeveless shirt and short Capri pants and NO headscarf... it was HEAVEN!! I was ready to go give thanks at the Hindu Monkey God temple nearby for that cherished feeling of liberation. I bought a pair of cheap gaudy sandals and a cheap shirt I thought would go with some of the things I had bought the day before (it did, totally). Then I hooked back up with Anne at the hotel. We wanted to go to Connaught Place, a major shopping plaza, and the hotel said, "Why not take the metro?" Wow, they were right! We were just a few blocks away from the station (we walked), and then just four stops from Connaught Place. The metro is FABULOUS - clean and air conditioned. Way to go, India!

Unfortunately, we were really pressed for time, so we didn't get to do nearly as much shopping as we wanted. We took a Took Took for the first time, and the driver didn't take us where we wanted to go - he took us to a different store than what we had asked for. We were mad, but decided to go in anyway. Anne bought a few more things for her daughters, and I got frustrated because nothing fit me (it's tough being a big girl). Then we headed back to the plaza and hit a book store (I convinced Anne that, contrary to what people back home had told her, Harry Potter books - at least the first two - were entirely appropriate for her daughters) and a pharmacy. And saw some adorable street puppies, probably not long for this Earth...

We had to get back to the hotel, because we wanted to be there when our clothes arrived. As soon as we walked into our room, the front desk called to say our clothes were there. We made the delivery guy stand outside of our room while we tried everything. We were beside ourselves. I loved everything even more than in the store! We ordered room service, ate, took our respective showers, relaxed, and started thinking about just what a fantastic, full 48 hours we'd had. I felt like I'd been away from Kabul for a week.

We packed up that night, and it was a major endeavor -- wow but we had a lot of stuff. Especially Anne, who had loaded up on things for her two teen girls back in Kenya (they go to private school). I ended up taking some of her stuff in my bag. Actually, I let her pack it -- in addition to being an expert bargainer, Anne is also an expert packer.

We listened to the advice of the hotel and got up at 4 a.m., so we could be at the airport by 5:30. There was NO need. We could have left at 6 and still made it with *plenty* of time. Oh, well. After we checked in at the Air India desk, I found a Subway in the airport and almost had to dance again. Mmmmmmmmm... Veggie Delight for breakfast... when it was time to get on the plane, I had but 50 rupees - just over $1. Hurrah for me.

The flight was late - I hear that's usual with Air India. The plane was half empty, so we had plenty of room to stretch out. And I was at the window, and got to see some beautiful Pakistan landscape.

We got back to Afghanistan, and as we were driven to our guest houses, Anne made a comment about how clean Kabul was. We both burst out laughing. 'Cause, comparatively, it is! She told the driver, in Dari, that Delhi was stinky, but not Kabul, and he laughed and laughed.

I would like to go back to Delhi for a much longer trip, but when it's cooler, and when Stefan is me. And the focus of that trip will be SITE-SEEING!!

Pictures are mostly of us in stores and the hotel room.

 
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